Steven Jackson is best remembered for his years of stardom with the St. Louis Rams throughout the 2000s, rushing for over 1,000 yards in eight straight seasons and earning three Pro Bowl nods in that nine-year stint. But the most impactful speech he's ever made very well may have occurred when he was with not the Rams nor the Falcons, but with the New England Patriots at the very end of his career.
The veteran running back shared the story of his brief stint in New England, from the origins of his relationship with Bill Belichick to the moving words he provided for the team upon Belichick's request in 2015, speaking with Mike Garafolo and Michael Robinson on "NFL Total Access: The Locker Room."
The story begins well before Jackson found himself in New England, when Belichick showed interest in him in the 2004 NFL Draft. The Patriots had two picks, Nos. 21 and 32, but opted instead to select Vince Wilfork and Ben Watson at those slots. Jackson wound up at No. 24 to the Rams, but the foundation for his relationship with Belichick had been established.
A decade later, Jackson had finished out his career with the Falcons, who opted to cut him after a less-than-stellar two-year stretch.
"I spent a lot of time with Coach Belichick in my rookie year leading up to the draft, and he was considering taking me then," Jackson said. "Fast forward to '15, he calls me up because he's the GM. Like, this is Belichick calling... LeGarrette Blount had just gone down. He's like, 'we need a guy, we need a big guy, this is your chance' kind of thing.
"I had told myself if I didn't get a call by October, it was over. I didn't want to be that guy... so when October came, I had shut it down in my mind. So to get this call in December, it's like, whoa. How do you say no? One, to a legendary coach, but to the opportunity that was ahead of you?"
On December 22, 2015, the 12-2 playoff-bound Patriots signed Jackson to finish out the season, more for his his impressive resume and 6-foot-2, 240-pound frame than for his postseason experience. After all, Jackson had only played in two playoff games before, carrying the ball 19 times for the Rams in his rookie season and ultimately losing in the divisional round.
Thus, when Belichick made a surprising request for Jackson ahead of the Patriots' AFC Championship Game in 2015, he was taken aback.
"...Things are going smooth and he asks me, 'can you talk to the team?'" Jackson recalled. "I'm like, 'it's the biggest game of my life, what do you want me to say to guys that have won four or five championships at this time?' And he's like, 'just tell your story.'"
As it turns out, Jackson's long career without such a big game was the precise reasoning for Belichick's request: to humble the players and make them realize that they shouldn't take this opportunity for granted.
"So I'm like okay, cool, so I get in there and he wanted me to tell my story on behalf of, like, Gronkowski. All he knows is AFC Championships, that's all he knows, he doesn't know anything different," Jackson recalled. "So I get in there and I tell them my story.
"I'm like, guys, there was a point in my career when I won six games in three seasons. I went 3-13, 2-14, 1-15 consecutively... winning six games, you guys do that before your bye weeks. And to have a cold call from Belichick in the middle of what I thought was my retirement, to get this opportunity, I could've been blind and I still would've come back and taken advantage of this. What you guys are touching, what you guys are doing is not normal.
"...I'll tell you now, there are some highs and there are some lows, but ultimately it's a team sport. And everything I've accomplished, I'd trade it for what you guys have been able to do here."
The lone damper on this story is that the Patriots went on to lose that AFC Championship Game. Peyton Manning's Broncos, the eventual Super Bowl champions of that season, were able to come out on top, primarily thanks to a strong defensive effort from Von Miller and company. Steven Jackson and Rob Gronkowski were the only Pats to score touchdows.
But Jackson's speech may have transcended just that one game, as the impact seemed profound.
"That got the attention of a lot of people. It was one of those things," Jackson said. "Tom Brady was like, 'yo, thank you for that,' because even him, that was shocking for him to hear that. He's just like, 'damn, six games in three years?'
"Yeah, man. You don't need to repeat it."